The (not so) Secret Garden...

 Early on weekend mornings, before the sun rises, I take Maddi for long walks.  One of our favourite hikes takes us to a large community garden, near the Lift Lock.  Surrounded on three sides by bushes and trees, the garden has all the appearance of a secret one.  Usually, by the time we get there, the light starts to peak out in the sky.  Yesterday morning, as we walked by the garden, the trees were glistening with snow and frost.  There was no one around, the air was crisp with cold and the snow was crunchy under my feet.

Lift Lock community garden in the summer Lift Lock community garden in the summer

We’ve come to experience the garden through all seasons, each bringing its unique flavour and mood to the area. No matter the time of the year though, I sense that the garden offers its visitors a feeling of peace, joy and wonderment. Or is that simply my interpretation?

Wanting to check this impression and looking forward to hearing some of the stories that have flourished in this garden, I sat down, a couple of weeks ago, with Peter Hughes, the Peterborough Lift Lock Community Garden Coordinator and Jill Bishop, a garden plot holder and the Peterborough Community Garden Network (PCGN) Coordinator.

Peter and Jill acknowledge that the site is particularly well suited to its new purpose and it provides the garden with a unique identity. The space, at the bottom of the hill of the Lift Lock visitors’ centre, is somewhat hidden away by the greenery that surrounds it. Even before the creation of the garden in 2011, the area used to be called the “secret garden” by Parks Canada employees. As Peter and Jill reminded me, legend has it that lockmasters all along the Trent Severn Waterways used to cultivate their own garden and the new community garden is rooted in this former lockmaster’s garden.

How the garden grew roots:
A couple of years ago, Eileen Nolan, a garden enthusiast who works at Park Canada, joined PCGN. At that time, Parks Canada wanted to engage in some outreach work with its neighbourhood and Eileen thought that establishing a community garden along the river, would be a beautiful way to grow new relationships between Parks Canada and the community.

As soon as Eileen floated the concept of a community garden at the Lift Lock, Peter and Jill started to dream.  Thus began a series of conversation between the three of them that led them to exploring ways make their dream a reality.

The idea had to be carefully examined. Parks Canada was somewhat nervous of what it might unleash, never having been involved in such an adventure before. The garden needed to follow a clear aesthetics so as to melt away any apprehension about community gardening.

the secret garden planning stage

In the end, the recipe for bringing this garden to light was fairly straightforward thanks to the resources available around the PCGN table: a thoughtful plan was developed and approved by Parks Canada, a group of dedicated gardeners (many of whom were seasoned ones) was brought together under the skillful guidance of a committed coordinator, a sponsoring agency step forward to provide resources for the garden and insurance was secured.

the garden doubles its size the garden doubles its size

20 large plots were created right from the start with a plan to double the number of plots the following year. The Lift Lock community garden is dedicated to not only growing food but also gardening skills through mentorship. There are now 40 plots in the garden, which has become the biggest community garden in the city.

Over its short history, the garden has gained a strong identity. The land is rich and everyone who’s gardened on site talks about the phenomenal yield that their plot has been able to produce.

bountiful harvest bountiful harvest

While the yields of the various plots feed the buzz about the garden, Peter and Jill, feel that what is most unique about the site is the sense of wonder and healing that emanate from it.

A place of wonder and joy:
I asked Peter and Jill whether they had a particular story they wanted to share about the garden, something which, in their minds summarized the essence of that space.  They both felt that the garden evokes both wonder and joy from everyone that work there or stumble upon it.

When working in the garden, Peter often meets neighbours as well as visitors to the Lift Lock who drift into the site as they walk by.  They first look surprise.  “I never knew this existed!” or “Wow, I didn’t expect to find something like this here.” Quickly their surprise and their look of wonderment lead them to start a conversation.  “How did this come to be?”  “This reminds me of my childhood when…”  Many visitors want to share gardening stories from their childhood or their adult life.  They talk about what gardening means to them, the joy it gives them.  Many remark how much time dissipates when they tend their garden.

gardener at work Jill working in her plot

 Jill talked about the “sense of peace and happiness” she experiences in the garden.  She recalled one day when she was in the garden just before dinner time.  “Two little girls rode up on their bikes, without their parents, giggling and happy.  They proceeded to go into their plot” which was close to Jill’s.  “I could hear them talking about their garden, how much they loved spending time there."  They harvested “a bunch of food, filled up their baskets and rode off.”  This routine was part of their daily rhythm, going “grocery shopping in the garden” before dinner.

Ready to go yet? I know of a great place for a walk... ready to go?

So next time your dog takes you on an outing in the neighbourhood, or you come to visit the Lift Lock, don't forget to drop by the garden.  It's worth a visit!  And if you want to learn more about the Lift Lock Community Garden or if you are looking for a plot in a community garden, contact Jill at 705.745.3238 xt 204 or email her at: